Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Hokey Pokey


My books from Ebay finally arrived. What’s interesting is, the tracking number at USPS.com still shows them in Dallas. The lack of detail in their tracking system is obvious; they show the initial pickup in Seattle, travel to Federal Way that same day, then nothing until January 5th, when the books were located in Dallas. And no movement in the tracking number through today, even though the books have actually been delivered. Apparently, it requires a manual notice added to the account to update the location, which not only delays the notice of movement, but creates a real potential for error. Compared to UPS, the Postal Service really is still in the Stone Age, and their recent rate hike is not likely to fix that.

I am not saying that UPS is perfect, by any means. A couple years ago, a UPS delivery ended up on my door, even though it

A - was for a house on a completely different street; and
B - was supposed to be signed for on delivery.

I looked up the right street and delivered the package myself. I wondered at the time, and wonder again now, what sort of disciplinary measures UPS uses when a delivery guy makes this kind of error. In any case, it reminds me that any company is going to have a certain amount of lost or delayed deliveries. But it also reminds me that the mindset at any given company is trained, and avoidable mistakes happen in places where the perspective is not in line with the real world. On every level, the Postal Service does its best, but cannot claim a standard of excellence. Lines are shorter at private companies, their rates go up less often, the private companies’ tracking process is more effective and accurate, and deliveries can be guaranteed to a more precise degree. The Postal Service, for example, offers guaranteed delivery within two business days, but FedEx can guarantee delivery within a twelve-hour window, in some cases within a four-hour window. That reflects not only the limitations of a massive government-style bureacracy, but also an attitude which is not primarily focused on the customer. Not to pick on the USPS, but I have observed periods where the carrier simply chose not to complete a route, where deliveries were missed for two or three days at a location, simply because the delivery person was not motivated to go to all their assigned stops. This speaks to Accountability, and to Apathy.

The reader may well wonder why I am rehashing something I brought up last week, but in this case I am thinking about how the USPS reflects the shortcomings of another large government body with a problem focusing on Accountability or personal responsibility - the U.S. Senate. As you read this article, somewhere in a committee room a Senator is either asking a question for no purpose beyond grandstanding, laying a foundation for his or her political campaigns in the fall, or some Senate aide is looking past the larger evidence of Alito’s mind and character, in search of some small piece of paper which can be employed, no matter how out of context, as an attack on him or the President who nominated him. As I was driving home yesterday, I heard Hugh Hewitt discuss the Alito record with another lawyer, who mentioned the sheer hypocrisy of Ted Kennedy, for suggesting that Alito is racist because of his ruling in one case, even though there were more than a dozen major cases where Alito’s opinion was in strong favor of the minority plaintiff. I did not have a way to write down the names or cases at the time, but the point was not only clear, but also sadly familiar. We are all aware that politics takes precedence over things most of us would count greater. The United States Senate seems to consider themselves above the accountability they demand of most public servants. Indeed, I suspect most of them only think of the very word “servants” as people they employ, rather than a description of their own office and duties. More than a few Senators have made comments this winter which suggest they plan to wait out President Bush, knowing he will not run for a third term (since such limits are applied to Presidents but not Senators), and wait for a more malleable Chief Executive. Small wonder that the rumor mill is pressing the names of McCain and Clinton, members of “The Club” themselves, for the party nominations, even if the average American would be poorly served by either one as President.

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